When Life Scout Phillip Bolick told people he planned to ride a bike 4,200 miles across the United States, they reacted in one of two ways.
“I was either told, ‘That’s incredible. I wish I could go,’ ” he says, “or, ‘You couldn’t pay me to do that.’ ”
At 15, Phillip was the youngest of 25 riders making the 67-day journey from Washington state to Washington, D.C. On their journey east, the group of Scouts and adults crossed four time zones and 15 states, making memories with each revolution of their pedals.
They made the Channel 8 news in Missoula, Mont. They met a group of Cub Scouts at Mount Rushmore that treated the cyclists like rock stars. And they crossed the George Washington Bridge into New York City — an emotional moment made more meaningful by the thousands of miles that preceded it.
At each town and city, the Scouts and Scouters acted as rolling ambassadors for Scouting.
“Almost everyone we met was incredibly interested in what we were doing,” Phillip says. “We met with Scouts in every state and shared our experiences.”
An open invitation
The trip’s official name was Eagle Scouts Cycling Across America. But when Bruce White (Eagle Class of 1971) came up with the idea in 2013, he made it known that all were welcome — even those who hadn’t earned Scouting’s highest honor.
“It was an attempt to sharpen each participant’s survival skills and allow them to believe that they could accomplish anything they put their mind to,” White says.
That first trip, completed in the summer of 2014, made it onto the cover of Boys’ Life magazine. The article inspired a number of people to reach out to White, saying that if he ever did another trip, they wanted in.
In 2017, White announced plans for a sequel. He said the trip would depart from Puget Sound near Seattle. They’d leave in June 2018, and everyone was invited.
Pedals and a plan
Riding a bicycle across the United States is a remarkable feat, but it’s not uncommon. On Day 28, the Scouts passed a group of transcontinental riders traveling west. In Ohio, they met a man bicycling from Florida to Alaska.
Knowing something’s been done before makes a task seem achievable, but it doesn’t make it any easier to plan. Juggling an Excel spreadsheet and road map, White crafted an itinerary that included manageable mileage, plenty of stops at roadside ice-cream stands and overnight stays at 17 BSA Scout camps.
White’s son, Cory, helped his dad with the planning. Cory White earned Eagle in 2005 and joined his dad on the 2014 Eagle Scouts Cycling Across America trip. He says preparation is mandatory when trying to keep 25 cyclists safe, well fed and properly hydrated.
“Many touring cyclists simply ride until they find a good place to stop,” Cory White says. “We had every day planned out from the beginning. Both concepts have their merits, but having a preconceived idea of where you’re going to be each day is an invaluable asset.”
To make the journey more feasible, the Whites arranged for support vehicles to travel with the group and haul gear, help with bike repairs and provide medical care if needed.
Bruised, not broken
Samuel Arndt, a 17-year-old Life Scout from Mount Dora, Fla., says he joined the trip to gain leadership experience, see the country and redefine his story.
“My family and friends were in disbelief when the small, weak kid was going to bicycle from one side of the country to the other,” Samuel says. “They called me brave and athletic, which is something I’m not called.”
In Wyoming, a little more than three weeks into the nearly 10-week trip, Samuel crashed and injured his wrist. Fearing it was fractured, the adults took him to a doctor, who estimated it would take six weeks for the injury to heal.
Samuel was devastated. He was hurting, but the emotional pain was even worse.
“I thought I would not be able to go on and that I failed my friends and family,” he says.
He rode in the support vehicle for the next week until the group arrived in Rapid City, S.D., where Samuel visited a second doctor. This doctor said the wrist wasn’t fractured and told Samuel that if he wore a cast when riding, the wrist would heal itself.
“In one week, I had fallen and gotten back up on my feet,” Samuel says. “No matter what happens on your ride, you don’t give up. Keep on pushing forward to the very end. As my Scoutmaster once said: ‘Never give up; never surrender.’ ”
The end and the beginning
Keon Peng, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout from Chino Hills, Calif., had seen the Statue of Liberty before. But this time was different.
On a transcontinental flight from California, it’s easy to slide down the shade and forget that you’re crossing an entire country. But things change when you travel that same path on a bicycle.
“Just the sheer amount of effort that I had put in to reach the East Coast was amazing,” Keon says. “Where I had once taken a flight to see the Statue of Liberty, seeing this landmark after this ride brought about a newfound excitement.”
Cory White believes in the power of the bike, too. It’s why he’s already thinking about another cross-country ride with his dad.
“When you’re on a bicycle, you slow down and travel the back roads,” he says. “You get to see parts of the country that aren’t normally seen, and you get to meet people who aren’t wrapped up in the politics of the world. It’s an amazing and rewarding experience.”
By the numbers
4,500: Pounds of food eaten
4,200: Miles covered
230: Bike tubes replaced
67: Days from start (Seattle) to finish (Washington, D.C.)
53: Rivers crossed
40: Riders who participated in some or all of the journey
15: States visited
4: Time zones crossed
2: Oceans touched
The Eagle Scout cyclists stayed at 17 different BSA council camps during their journey across the U.S. Each stop gave the riders time to eat, rest and share their inspiring story with younger Scouts.
- Camp Easton, Harrison, Idaho, Inland Northwest Council
- Camp Melita Island, Big Arm, Mont., Montana Council
- Camp Buffalo Bill, Cody, Wyo., Greater Wyoming Council
- Ingawanis Adventure Base, Waverly, Iowa, Winnebago Council
- Camp C.S. Klaus, Greeley, Iowa, Northwest Iowa Council
- Indian Mound Scout Reservation, Oconomowoc, Wis., Three Harbors Council
- Owasippe Scout Reservation, Twin Lake, Mich., Pathway to Adventure Council
- Gerber Scout Reservation, Twin Lake, Mich., Michigan Crossroads Council
- Camp Munhacke, Gregory, Mich., Michigan Crossroads Council
- Camp Miakonda, Toledo, Ohio, Erie Shores Council
- Fireland Scout Reservation, Wakeman, Ohio, Lake Erie Council
- Beaumont Scout Reservation, Rock Creek, Ohio, Lake Erie Council
- Custaloga Town Scout Reservation, Carlton, Pa., French Creek Council
- Elk Lick Scout Reserve, Smethport, Pa., Allegheny Highlands Council
- Goose Pond Scout Reservation, Lake Ariel, Pa., Northeastern Pennsylvania Council
- Quail Hill Scout Reservation, Manalapan Township, N.J., Monmouth Council
- Joseph A. Citta Scout Reservation, Barnegat, N.J., Jersey Shore Council
My son and and I would be interested in joining this trip if you go again. I am an Eagle Scout (1988) and and he is on the path to Eagle.Please let us know if you are going to do it again!
Great story, I have been dreaming of getting Scouts together for years. Too bad both Eagles are long gone. Great story , hope to do it next summer 2021.
Jim Matthews BSA 116